African-American Group in Dimona Faced Down IDF in ’86, Now Celebrates First Member To Become Israeli Citizen
By Andrew Esensten
The Jewish Daily
Elyahkeem Ben Yehuda could have become another statistic, growing up poor, black and fatherless on the west side of Chicago during the 1950s.
But he never had a run-in with the law, nor did he see the inside of a jail cell, until he moved to Israel to join the African Hebrew Israelite community. “I had to come to Israel to get my first experience in jail,” he said. “But in those days, that was like a badge of honor, to be arrested for God and His people.”
Last month, the 62-year-old Ben Yehuda — father of 10 children and husband of 3 women — became the first member of his community to gain full Israeli citizenship. Looking back on the hurdles he overcame since his 1971 arrival, Ben Yehuda mused, “I can only describe this journey in relationship to my forefathers,” referring to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. “They were able to endure. As long as we put fulfilling the will of the God of Israel first, there’s no challenge that we can’t overcome.”
The past year has brought even greater acceptance for the Black Hebrews. In August 2008, Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, celebrated his 85th birthday in Dimona, where he visited their settlement, the Village of Peace, and was effusive in his praise of Ben Ammi and his people. “Your community is beloved in Israel,” Peres said. “You give the country happiness and song and hope for a better world.” He assured the Black Hebrews that Israel does not tolerate discrimination, and he pledged to facilitate their transition to citizenship. “Our hands are in yours; your destiny must be our destiny,” Peres said.
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